Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

On October 22, 2015, Congressional leaders will present a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of the Monuments Men.  The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor the U.S. Congress can bestow upon civilians.  One of the civilians being recognized in this case will be Joseph A. Horne (1911-1987).

Joseph A. Horne

It has been my pleasure over the past few years to research just a bit into the life of Mr. Horne. Through his life journey, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of U.S. and world history.  I’ve been cataloging and sharing my findings on this blog in a series of Interludes.   Mr. Horne served his country throughout his life and part of that service included a very active role as a Monuments Man.  While I hope you have a chance to review the whole Interludes series, following are links to the two specific chapters chronicling efforts made by dedicated men and women during and after World War II to preserve, protect and return stolen works of art and books … efforts that actually continue to this day.

interlude: to protect, preserve and return … if possible

interlude: offenbach archival depot


P. S. I hope to complete the Interludes series by year’s end.  After service as a Monuments man, Mr. Horne continued his career with the U.S. Information Service, interacting with people around the world, rich and poor, literary giants, musicians, and with kings and queens.  “Walking” with him offered me a glimpse of worlds that are no more. I look forward to sharing the stories.

West End Hotel, Bangalore

Press Release Gold Medal Ceremony for Monuments Men

Monuments Men Foundation


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As I read Maitland Armstrong’s words, I heard David McCullough’s voice as he narrated Ken Burn’s The Civil War.  Maitland Armstrong (1836-1918) did many things during his long life but I was particularly interested in his journey as painter and stained glass designer.  I’d first learned about him as part of my research into the artists involved with decorating Trinity Church.  Maitland’s name had surfaced as a friend and contemporary of John LaFarge.

I chanced upon his memoir, Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life, published posthumously in 1920.  It opens, “I was born on the 15th of April, 1836, at Danskammer on the Hudson, near Newburgh.” In it he writes with great affection for his family and especially his mother.  He describes her southern roots, how she would sometimes leave New York to winter in Charleston, South Carolina, and how she nurtured his interest in painting before her death in 1853.

I had planned to skim Armstrong’s memoir focusing on his friendships with people like John La Farge and Augustus St. Gaudens.  In the table of contents, there is a chapter, St. Gaudens and Others.  But there was also a chapter, The South Before the War.  What did this artist have to say about such a time and place?

Well, what he does is describe in great detail, by painting with words, life in the south on a small network of plantations and the neighboring environs.  Even with his blood ties to a number of the families, he reports with a northern perspective.  He enjoys the hunting and accepts the slavery.  He learns a new language about the poor whites known as crackers and the slave assigned to him, his little darky.

It was in 1853, perhaps after the death of his mother, that Armstrong and his brothers traveled to Charleston.  There, while he is staying with relatives, the Wilkins family, they drive to their plantation Kelvin Grove, where Armstrong describes there was “a nice little village of comfortable white cabins for the negroes. But there always was in evidence a driver, as he was called, who was a superior negro and carried a whip.

He visited several family relations while in the South, from the Wilkins to his cousins, the Screvens.

The detachment with which Armstrong is able to describe the scenes that took place around him in the south (and in a later chapter his description of turmoil in New York) make clear his compassion for others but also his upper class background that separated him from those others.

At the end of the chapter Armstrong describes how that period in the south was one of the most delightful times in his life.  No cares, no worries. He would receive a letter decades letter from a family member describing the loss of the plantations and the slaves, the occupation by Union troops, and the auctioning off of property to pay debts.

Armstrong would return to New York, attend the very best schools, and travel the world.  His life was truly varied serving as student and teacher in several different fields.  As a stained glass artist he would collaborate on masterpieces with his daughter, Helen Maitland Armstrong.  He would serve as a Consul General in Rome.  And near the end of his days, he decided to chronicle that life.

For anyone researching artists of a particular generation who ran in the same circles – La Farge, St. Gaudens, McKim, White, etc – this book could be an interesting resource. Armstrong describes personal vignettes of how these people interacted socially and appreciated each others work.  You could even completely ignore that chapter about the south.  But I think that chapter is important because, from a different source, it shines a light on life in the past … and it is that past that is the shaky foundation upon which we continue to try to build a brighter future in this country.

Nativity: Design for the Stickney Memorial Window, Faith Chapel, Jekyll Island, Georgia, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Nativity: Design for the Stickney Memorial Window, Faith Chapel, Jekyll Island, Georgia, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Sources/Additional Readings

Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life, 1920

Old Glass New Windows by Will H. Low, Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 4, 1888

Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Collection Online

Wikipedia — Maitland Armstrong

Year Books of the Architectural League of New York (late 1800s, early 1900s)


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Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz

Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz

As part of my research with the Interlude series, I’ve been reading the memoir, From That Place and Time, by Lucy S. Dawidowicz. The narrative focuses on the period 1938-1947, and the author’s time spent pre-war in Vilna, Poland, studying at the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO) and then her later post-war work to identify the remains of the YIVO library.  The Interlude series is my attempt to share some of what I’ve learned in my walk through history via the life of Joseph Anthony Horne.  The paths of Ms. Dawidowicz and Mr. Horne cross in 1947 in the German city of Offenbach at the Offenbach Archival Depot.  More details to follow in the next Interlude, coming soon.




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Words taken from  Wordless: Writer’s Block and Grief, a beautiful essay out today by writer Lorraine Berry in Talking Writing Magazine.  As the title suggests, it is about a writer dealing with grief.  It is a moving piece that I hope you have a chance to read. It was startling to read of black birds in the first paragraph of her essay.  Birds of that dark shade have been on my mind of late though none did I see on a recent walk through the Fells. A friend faraway, who is dealing with grief, had mentioned as part of a larger conversation of seeing blackbirds outside of his house.  And though I was not close enough to hug him as he might have liked, we did spend a while talking about the wings of the bird and how they glistened iridescent in the sun.  Mostly on my walk through the Fells, I saw leaves. 😉

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This morning I received several different examples in my inbox that referenced the use of creativity.  First I received a Daily Reflection courtesy of Alive Now Magazine, a publication in which I’ve had photos appear.  Today’s reflection was “Imagine you are giving a party inviting the poor, crippled, lame, and blind in today’s world. How would you need to engage your creativity to offer them your hospitality?”  You can read the full reflection here. It was strange to see this reflection about using creativity to offer up hospitality, and then to read this NYTimes article and some other articles highlighting how people are engaging their creativity to devise new strategies for relocating the homeless, and not always in positive ways.

A Rodin Sculpture at Boston MFA

A Rodin Sculpture at Boston MFA

The articles made me mad but the reflection brought to mind my mother.  One holiday season she invited to dinner a mentally challenged neighbor.  He had no family coming to visit that year and we had plenty of food.  But, you see, my mom was a very private person.  For others, and maybe even this same man, in the past she had always made up a plate and sent my father or brothers down the street to knock on doors and share some food.  I do not know why she invited this man to our house this time.  I think she was creative in her approach so that she could do this “good deed” and maintain some sense of privacy that was important to her.

Gerber at the Kitchen Table

Gerber at the Kitchen Table

The man was invited to sit in what the family considered “Pop’s chair” in the living room.  My mom served him the first plate, and my dad served him his refills.  After eating, the man watched TV and even took a nap.  My younger brother and I were small enough to ask out loud, and too loud, “When is he leaving?”  She shushed us but I could tell my mom felt the same way.  After he did leave, my mom swore she’d never do such a thing again.  She never did the exact same thing again (that I can remember) but she did do other things of a similar nature — good deeds that sometimes exceeded her comfort zone. Deeds done creatively.

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Okay, yes, that’s me in my mother’s arms a few days out of the hospital.  I won’t tell you how long ago. But I will share this essay, just published in Talking Writing Magazine.  People sometimes ask why do I write about a leaf blowing in the wind or photograph a sliver of light.  This essay helps to explain the why of it all.  Enjoy.

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